Creator Tom Beland has a story to tell, and not even a terrifying fall down a flight of stairs could stand in his way.
Okay, maybe it put him out of commission for about a year.
Beland’s “True Story, Swear to God,” intially a self-published venture that eventually wound up at Image Comics, tells the story of his very first meeting and subsequent relationship with his future wife, journalist Lily Garcia, beginning with a chance encounter at a bus stop in Disneyland. The book ran for 17 issues under Beland’s Clib’s Boy label before relaunching with a new issue #1 in August of 2006 at Image.
But almost a year and a half ago, while in the midst of putting together the latest issue of his popular autobiographical comic book series, Beland took a spill that left a lingering tremor in his drawing hand. The cartoonist found himself unable to pencil, ink or letter the series documenting the most emotionally celebratory and harrowing points of his life.
“Whenever I drew a curve, my hand would shake,” Beland told CBR of the accident. “I didn’t even want to go to my studio, because you go to draw these characters and they’re like real people to you. When they come out wrong, it’s like they’re sick.”
As he visited doctors and searched for an answer, Beland said he couldn’t bring himself to continue his work. “When you do a book by yourself and you’re going over something that’s emotional, you don’t just write it and send it out. You relive it when you write it, you pencil it, you ink it, you letter it, you scan it. That’s five or six times you relive something. At that point, I just didn’t have it in me to go and relive moments like that,” he said. “There’s a big part in this issue where I break down and start crying at the wedding, and having to draw that scene again was really tough. You can walk into my studio, and everything pretty much looked the same as the last time I tried to draw. Except there’s a trashcan there with ten thousand dents from when I kicked the trashcan. I walk in and it just shakes. ‘Don’t ink! Please don’t ink!'”
However, after support from friends, family and fans, things began improving for the cartoonist and Beland plans to finally continue with his Eisner-nominated series with the release of issue #12. “I just want to tell anyone who is a fan of my book, thanks for hanging in there and thanks for understanding. And the people who wrote in giving me support were just amazing,” he said. “It was really tough, but at the same time I learned a lot about my audience. And Image has been really cool about it. It’s been a blessing and a curse. And I’m glad to get the curse part taken care of.”
As for what to expect in the upcoming issue, Beland promises a wedding and a trip back to the House of Mouse where it all began. “There’s a lot of Disney in it,” proclaimed the artist. “For those who don’t know, Disney offered to marry us, and we took them up on it. But you won’t see the Tower of Terror. I kept as much licensed stuff out of there as possible, since we didn’t ask permission.”
Beland expressed his excitement over being able to return to work and to drawing – a passion long present in life and his family. All five of Beland’s brothers draw, as well as the artist’s late father, to whom he attributes his own penciling bug’s origin. Growing up, he and his dad would look at the Al Hirschfeld cartoons found in TV Guide. Beland said Hirschfeld’s line work mesmerized him, and he drew much of his influence from the artist, as well as from old Yogi Bear cartoons.
“Before [Yogi] wanted to stop pollution,” he clarified. “Back when he was funny and wanted to rip off picnic baskets. I liked it when the cartoon characters were sort of assholes to each other. Then in the ’70s, they were making them save the planet. Worst [period] ever for cartoons.”
The creator also cited his fans and their immeasurable support as motivation to his continued work. “We have a really unique audience. We’ve had guys walk up and say, ‘Me and my girlfriend have read this entire series.’ Then there’s this pause and he’ll say, ‘We broke up about a month ago.’ And I wait for it and he goes, ‘She took the ‘True Story’ books.’ It’s so sad to hear that, but at the same time I’m going, ‘Yeah!’ I can see her going, ‘I’m taking these!'”
The series also touches some fans on an extremely emotional level. The writer recalled on particular couple who drove all the way from Arizona to San Diego just to meet the creator and his wife, and who both left a lasting impression on Beland. “It’s weird when you meet complete strangers who know that much about you. But it’s also cool, too,” he said. “His wife was so into the series. When she met me, she started talking about this specific page where it was me talking to my parents at their grave and saying I was going to be moving pretty soon. She related to everything in that scene so much that she started breaking down while talking to me.
“I realized at that moment I had that page in my portfolio bag. While she’s crying and talking to me, I took the page out of my bag and asked what was her name. I wrote, ‘To Elizabeth. Take care of my baby.’ I gave it to her and she took the drawing while talking and crying. Her husband was like, ‘Look what he gave you,’ and then she really flipped out. Those are the coolest moments. When you make that kind of connection with someone.”
As for the future, Beland assured readers that there are many more true stories left to be told. “I have another issue that’s pretty much done,” said the writer. “I’m still planning on doing the book, but I don’t know how quickly I can get them out. It’s never been a book that comes out every month and it’s probably never going to be. But I have about four or five issues planned out.”
Topics for upcoming issues include Viagra, what Beland describes as “the pot years” and a few flashbacks to his younger days. “If you read the ‘100 Stories’ book, I’m going to be going back to some of those storylines.”
The creator also told CBR that his Marvel Comics work continues to grow. A digital exclusive comic starring Wolverine titled “Carni-Brawl” can be currently found on Marvel.com, and he’s already halfway through the third issue of “Fantastic Four: Isla De Muerte.”
As for how he first broke into Marvel – with a tale in “Spider-Man Unlimited” – Beland related an unbelievable encounter with Marvel editor Tom Brevoort. “I was signed books at Jim Hanley’s Universe and this guy walks in and asked to sign his to Tom. He said, ‘You should write a ‘Spider-Man, Mary Jane’ story for Marvel.’ And I said, ‘If they ever knew who I was, I’d love to.’ He said, ‘You never know.’ And I said, ‘Yeah. You never know.’ I did a sketch for him in the book and he said, ‘Thanks. Why don’t you give me a call on Monday?’ He puts this card face down and he walks out. I flipped it over and there’s this huge Romita Spider-Man on the card.”
The opportunity proved an especially emotional moment for Beland, as the offer to write Spider-Man reminded him those moments he spent with his father while growing up, reading the adventures of the web-swinging hero together.
It may seem all too perfect, but Beland is quick to reaffirm that it’s all a true story, swear to God.
“True Story, Swear to God” issue #12 hits stores March 3, 2010